The Greater, Sadder Debate: Uncanny Avengers #5

When Marvel announced the high concept of the Uncanny Avengers title, fans raised an eyebrow. “Hey look! Mutants as Avengers!” was uttered briefly by the collective fanbase and then… nothing. Whether it was due to the title’s frequent shipping delays or the fact that every character in Marvel was an Avenger now, fans moved on from discussing the title at length. That all changed with issue #5.

This issue of Uncanny Avengers serves as an epilogue to the team’s destructive battle with the Red Skull (now empowered by the recently deceased Xavier’s mutant brain) and his associates as they began a war against mutants and crossed paths with Havok and the new squad of Avengers. After the debacle of public image wrought from Red Skull’s machinations, the team decides to expand the roster from Rogue, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Havok, Wolverine, and Captain America to include Sunfire, Wonder Man and the Wasp. The latter two members are meant to spearhead a new PR campaign and right the course of the floundering outreach program of bringing a team of superheroes and mutant heroes into the spotlight. Much of the issue revolves around the introduction of the new team members, the fallout of the battle with the Skull, and is capped off by the new infamous speech by Havok to the press. A speech that is really not all it can be made out to be.

For as long as can be remembered, Marvel’s merry mutants have been associated with the concept of persecuted minorities in our society. As these heroes and villains faced adversity along with the daily drama of comicbook battles, the backdrop of the civil rights movement was layered over the monologues and conflicts of all of the characters fighting for peace. No one ever came out and said it and no one ever admitted while writing a mutant-centric book to making truly veiled metaphors to a modern civil rights movement. When you stop and think about it, that’s a pretty crazy connection to make. We don’t hunt persecuted minorities with giant robot death machines and not many tend to be involved in relationships with alien queens and solar system wide battles over a death god.

That’s what makes the hubbub over this issue so depressing: it’s one page that dominates the perception that readers have had over the other nineteen in the book and it’s one page that is meant to start off a dialogue within the book about the treatment of a fictional minority group. The public outcry exhibited in article after blogpost after comment string seems very hung up on a personal perception of what writer Rick Remender is “trying to say” about mutants and the progression of the mutant rights movement by six panels of a fictional character monologuing.

The saddest part is what an overwhelming distraction this speech wound up causing from a solid comic. Guest artist Oliver Copiel turned in an incredibly beautiful issue showing once again why one of the greatest crimes of DC was letting him go to Marvel after Legion Lost ended. The plotline of adding characters to the team who had recently been swept off the board by going evil (Wonder Man and Sunfire) or by dying (Wasp) and integrating them to a totally foreign environment was a great way to show just how unique this team will continue to be.

It’s always great when a comic can stir up the readership and get them talking about the work and its intent and have discussions about it. It’s not the responsibility of the readership to dig in and make a single scene in a single issue the basis for judging an entire series. One scene cannot be the battlecry for a perceived slight against a current civil rights movement. By reading too much into what was intended we run the risk of ignoring a solid issue of a comic embarking on a greater journey of progress for a fictional movement. We tend to forget it’s all just a bunch of people in spandex fighting crime with superpowers, some days.